too late | 

Irishman wants apology after New Zealand rules stopped him flying home to see dying mother

'I sat in my garage at 4 in the morning trying not to wake my daughter while I watched my mother pass away'

Paul Mullally on 1news in New Zealand

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

An Irish-born New Zealand citizen has told how he had to watch his mother die in Ireland by video link after he was prevented from being able to fly home to see her.

Paul Mullally is one of two Kiwis who want the New Zealand Government to apologise after they were stopped from travelling to reach their seriously ill parents by the country’s MIQ allocation system.

While New Zealand's Covid-19 policies allowed the country to escape the worst of the virus, the High Court there has ruled that the system used to allocate places in border quarantine facilities infringed on the rights of some citizens to return home.

For most of the period between 10 April 2020 until 28 February 2022, returning citizens had to get a place in hotel isolation (MIQ - managed isolation and quarantine) before they could board a plane home.

After the system failed him, Paul Mullally told how he had to watch his mother Angela die by video link in January.

"I sat in my garage at 4 in the morning trying not to wake my daughter while I watched my mother pass away. It's not the nicest thing to have to do," he told the New Zealand Breakfast on Thursday show.

Angela had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in April last year.

As she had been given four to five years to live, Mullally decided to wait for borders to open so other Kiwis in more precarious situations could get a MIQ allocation.

However, even though she still had her good and bad days, Mullally said Angela "started to go downhill rapidly" by December.

By mid-January the situation deteriorated to the extent that Mullally applied for an emergency MIQ spot so his family could go back to Ireland to see her before returning to New Zealand.

"We heard nothing back,” he said. “Absolutely nothing, we got an email. We rang everybody, we rang politicians. Every time we rang the helpline, one of the first things they said … the people you're talking to cannot give you an answer."

A day after his mother's death, on January 31, Mullally received news he was granted a last-minute MIQ spot to give him and his family four days in Ireland to say goodbye.

He now wants the Government to acknowledge the hurt the MIQ allocation system caused.

He also wants apology and not years down the line when it would be "too late".

"They need to acknowledge that, yes, Covid and all the restrictions were needed at the time. But, this Government, to me, seems to react to things. They don't plan ahead."

Paul was speaking after the advocacy group Grounded Kiwis won a case against MIQ in the High Court where a judge ruled the way New Zealand's borders were managed during part of the Covid-19 pandemic did in some cases impede the right of returning Kiwis.

Justice Mallon acknowledged that while MIQ played a vital role in achieving the Government's public health objectives and that requiring returnees to stay in MIQ was lawful, its virtual lobby "lottery" system didn't sufficiently allow individuals' circumstances to be considered and prioritised.

Another person calling for an apology is New Zealand citizen Rachel Bradley, who is based in France.

In September last year, her dad's condition deteriorated and he was repatriated home from Australia after getting an emergency spot in MIQ after two attempts.

In December, Bradley said the situation became quite serious and she started applying to come home to New Zealand.

She made a total of eight emergency allocation applications to see her critically ill dad in hospital.

"One after the other. Because I thought that if I just keep going and keep giving them information, maybe it will get elevated into another process where someone will have some compassion and look at my case and say, yes, this is an emergency."

Bradley hoped Wednesday's court ruling set a precedent to say "this can never happen again".

She said she agreed that MIQ was needed to protect New Zealanders, but there should have never been a situation where Kiwis who needed help overseas were told by their Government they couldn't come home.

In response to Wednesday's court ruling, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the lobby system "may have infringed" on some citizens' right to enter New Zealand in the way it was operating between September 1 and December 17 last year.

He didn't offer an apology, but said the Government was "carefully considering the Court’s decision".

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